In his final days, John ‘Mule’ Miles had something to say

I distinctly remembered feeling anxious a little more than seven years ago as I walked through the parking lot at a Northwest Side assisted living facility. A queasy feeling hit me just as I passed through the front door.

San Antonio’s John Miles played for the Chicago American Giants in the Negro Leagues from 1946-49

On assignment to interview former Negro League baseball standout John “Mule” Miles, I knew that Mr. Miles, at age 90, wasn’t feeling well. I knew it might be our last conversation. Nevertheless, my assignment from a trusted editor at the San Antonio Express-News was clear.

I had been asked specifically to explore how Miles felt about the social injustice that made it necessary for black ball players to play in one league and whites in another, for so long.

Having interviewed Miles a few times before our last meeting in April of 2013, I knew that he had deftly skirted some of those difficult questions in the past.

From the day I met him in the early 1990s, he exuded positive vibes and loved to talk baseball, but “Mule” had always stopped short of expressing his most painful feelings on the subject of race.

He was charismatic. Charming. Gracious. But never really forthcoming about his own personal journey.

So there I was, standing at the reception desk at an assisted care center off Huebner Road, and my stomach was in full churn. The last thing I wanted was for Miles to feel uncomfortable with my line of questioning.

Not this time.

Looking a little frail, Miles invited me into his room with a welcoming smile and took a seat. I took mine. As the afternoon sun splashed through the curtains, we started to talk, and it was pure gold.

We talked about Jackie Robinson. Satchel Paige. Josh Gibson. Oscar Charleston. We talked about Miles’ best friend, Clyde McNeal, his boyhood pal from San Antonio and a flashy shortstop with the Chicago American Giants.

Miles had always been so grateful for McNeal’s friendship.

In 1946, McNeal talked Miles into leaving his job as a mechanic at Kelly field to take an offer to play for the American Giants, where they remained as teammates for a few years under manager “Candy” Jim Taylor.

The friendship continued for decades, until the end of McNeal’s life, when Miles would help transport his wheelchair-bound friend to some major-league cities, to attend some of the celebrations of former Negro League ball players.

We had talked about all of that. But, never had we really got down to the nitty-gritty on how he felt about discrimination. Until our last meeting, when it all poured out of the old ball player, perhaps because he sensed it might be the last time to get it off his chest.

I remember sitting there, stunned, as Miles started to talk about 1942 and his trip to Tuskegee, Ala., to work as mechanic trainee with the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen were American heroes. A World War II fighting force. But Miles said he remembered one incident when he didn’t feel like a hero.

“I’m in my car with Texas plates and driving 20 miles per hour,” he said. “I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, the law is behind me.’ ”

With his pregnant wife in the passenger seat, Miles pulled over, and the officer approached on foot holding a gun, talking about how a tail light needed to be fixed.

“He says something, and I say, ‘I beg your pardon?’ ” Miles asked. “And then he said, ‘Oh, you’re one of them smart ones.’ Then that guy doubled up his fist and hit me, knocked my baseball cap across the window.”

Miles said he didn’t retaliate because he remembered what his mom and dad had told him before he left Texas.

“My mother and father taught me how to act,” he said. “They said, ‘You don’t get ugly, because if you do, things happen, and they happen real fast.”

About a month after my story was published, John Miles passed away.

The likeness of native Texan Biz Mackey, an Eagle Pass native who grew up in Luling, adorns the official logo of the Negro Leagues centennial.

I wanted to share it with everyone today because, No. 1, this is the centennial year of the Negro Leagues. No. 2, because guys like Miles and McNeal never really received the credit for their athletic success. And, No. 3, because of current events.

In exploring Miles’ experience with law enforcement in the South in the 1940s, maybe we can begin to understand why so many remain so frustrated with the system more than 70 years later, in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Like Miles, Floyd was an athlete from Texas. Miles grew up in San Antonio. Floyd in Houston. Miles survived racism in the 1940s and lived a long and mostly happy life. Floyd, who attended Houston Yates High School in the early 1990s, wasn’t nearly as fortunate.

He passed away on May 25 in Minneapolis, with an officer’s knee on his neck, setting off waves of protest in the nation. Knowing Miles, he no doubt would disapprove of the violence and looting plaguing American cities for the past week.

But knowing how it feels to be targeted, I am certain that he would feel sympathy for those who are offended and angry with a system that continues to yield bad results for minorities.

It is a galling reality that, all these years later, should make everyone feel a little bit queasy.

Mexican Baseball League sets plan to open play in August

The Mexican Baseball League is planning to start its season in August, according to a news release.

The league said in the release issued Thursday that it would play according to the plan “as long as there are the right conditions to carry out a season with the public in the stands.”

Originally set to open play in April, the Mexican league has been on hold, suspending its schedule because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A unanimous vote of team presidents and managers this week produced the following plan:

# 48 games per team

# Start of the regular season on Friday, Aug. 7

# End of the regular season on Thursday, Oct. 1

# Start of the playoffs on Saturday, Oct. 3, with playoffs expanded to 12 teams.

# Start of the King’s Series (Mexico’s World Series) on Monday, Nov. 2.

“Barring any setbacks, that’s the plan for the re-start of the season,” said Jose Melendez, president of the defending league champion Acereros de Monclova.

Melendez is a 39-year-old Laredo resident who attended college in San Antonio at UTSA and at the University of the Incarnate Word.

Asked what would happen if one or more of the league’s 16 teams could not get clearance to play with fans in the stands, Melendez said in a text that it’s possible games could go on.

“Some teams have made compromise to play with gates closed, in case that happens,” said Melendez, a former front-office staffer with the San Antonio Missions.

Because of the pandemic, travel restrictions between the U.S. and Mexico have been in effect since March. But Melendez said it’s his understanding that the border will be opened in June.

Best in S.A.? Dascenzo’s Missions won 100 games

Former San Antonio Missions manager Doug Dascenzo still remembers the day that Joe Wieland first walked into the home team clubhouse at Wolff Stadium.

Dascenzo was happy that Wieland and Robbie Erlin were joining the ball club, coming over in a trade.

But it was still an extremely strange sequence of events, considering that earlier in the week, Wieland had thrown a no-hitter against the Missions.

On the day of the trade nine years ago this summer, Wieland and Erlin woke up at their team’s hotel in San Antonio and rode the bus with the rest of the Frisco RoughRiders to the Wolff.

Then they entered the manager’s office to meet Dascenzo. After pleasantries, in came Tom Tornincasa, the Missions’ hitting coach.

“He’s the hitting coach that just got no-hit a few days earlier, right,” Dascenzo said in a telephone interview. “And if you’re ever around a hitting coach, and their team does not get any hits in a game, they’re not very happy.”

Tornincasa shook hands and offered a few kind words for Erlin.

“He extends his hand to Robbie and says, ‘Hey welcome,’ “ Dascenzo said. “ ‘We’re glad you’re here. Blah, blah, blah.’ Then he turns to Joe Wieland and he tells him a few things, (with) a few choice words. He says, ‘I’ll talk to him later.’ “

Dascenzo chuckled, remembering the moment. “He walked away,” the manager said. “But, of course, they end up being best buddies.” Such was life in the Missions’ clubhouse in 2011, when the ball club produced arguably the greatest season in franchise history.

With Wieland and Erlin on the staff for the stretch run, the Missions would go on to win the second half in the Texas League South, compiling 94 regular-season victories along the way.

Combined with a 6-1 run through two playoff series – including 3-1 against Frisco and a 3-0 against Arkansas — the Missions finished 100-47, posting the most victories in one season in the team’s long history.

Arguably, it was a championship season unlike any of the 13 in franchise history. Only the 1908 squad won more games in the regular season with 95. That year, however, the San Antonio Bronchos did not need to back up their first-place finish, because there were no playoffs.

Among the six championship squads in 26 seasons at the Wolff, the 2011 Missions produced more victories than any of the others.

Only a Dave Brundage-managed 2003 Missions team compares. Brundage led his Seattle Mariners’ affiliated squad to a second-straight league title by winning both halves, claiming 88 regular-season victories and 92 total.

Dascenzo’s San Diego Padres-affiliated Missions in 2011 were even better.

They sent numerous players into the major leagues, including four — Brad Brach (New York Mets), Miles Mikolas (St. Louis Cardinals), Jedd Gyorko (Milwaukee Brewers) and Daniel Robertson (Tampa Bay Rays) — who remain on active rosters. Both Brach and Mikolas have earned MLB all-star designations.

Nine years ago, during the Missions’ postgame title celebration, Robertson said he liked the season-long atmosphere in the clubhouse because it felt “like being in college.”

“There was a lot of chemistry on this team,” Robertson told John Whisler of the San Antonio Express-News. “We had some new guys (join the club) at midseason after the call-ups, and they all fit right in. We didn’t have a bunch of superstars, just really good players who didn’t want to let their teammates down.”

Dascenzo, speaking in a telephone interview from his home in Pennsylvania, agreed. Now a minor league field coordinator in the Chicago Cubs organization, he tipped his cap to his former players. He said they all learned to win on the way up through the Padres’ system.

In 2009, for instance, the same core of players won 101 games and a championship with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) TinCaps. “So in a matter of two years,” Dascenzo said, “you had the same group of guys that had the same exact season at two different levels, at the low-A level and the Double-A level. That’s amazing, and probably unheard of in modern-day baseball.”

Key contributors to both the TinCaps and the Missions were Robertson, Blake Tekotte, Jaff Decker, Sawyer Carroll and James Darnell among position players, not to mention pitchers such as Brach, Simon Castro and Anthony Bass.

The Missions defeated their Texas League opposition with just about every tool imaginable — power hitting, pitching and defense. Sometimes, with a combination of all three. Dascenzo, looking back, marveled that the Missions cranked out 159 home runs in a pitcher’s ball park.

“We probably weren’t expected to hit the ball out of the ball park as much as we actually did,” he said. “There is a big wind at Wolff Stadium. It blows straight in from right field, and we had a lot of left-handed hitters. We did not anticipate (159 home runs) but, like I said, the guys had some great years, and it is what it is.

“I don’t know if they hit more home runs on the road, or, at the Wolff. But they put their work in. They got better. And, thanks to Tom Tornincasa on the hitting side, they enjoyed coming to work every day and getting better.”

Led by pitching coach Jimmy Jones, the Missions’ staff ranked first in earned run average (3.43), first in WHIP (1.272) and first in strikeouts (1,087) in the league. They were also first in fielding percentage (.980).

Dascenzo said he recalls the team’s ability to track down balls in the outfield as a key factor.

“Blake Tekotte, our center fielder, he had a lot of range and was a great defender,” Dascenzo said. “Sawyer Carroll played right field. The Deckers — Jaff and Cody (unrelated) played left. They all did extremely well. Like you said, we had the fewest errors in the league, and generally that’s going to correlate to your wins. If your defense is high up in the ranking, then your wins are generally going to be up, as well.”

For the Missions, however, they didn’t just rely on talent.

It also came down to chemistry and attitude. The attitude centered on trying to win every ball game. When it didn’t happen, feelings were ruffled. Such as, when Wieland joined the team and Tornincasa just couldn’t accept it – at least, not right away.

“We had great coaches,” Dascenzo said. “With (Tornincasa) … we were like a bad cop-good cop, that kind of a deal. We had all the stuff in place. But, again, it came down to the players. They went out and played the game every night. Like Robertson (once) said, the players did have a good chemistry.

“They loved to go out and win, and they hated to lose.”

Rich Dauer’s 2013 Missions relied on pitching, clutch hitting

Sixth in a series on Texas League championships won by the San Antonio Missions during the Wolff Stadium era:

2013

Big Picture: The Missions, led by first-year manager Rich Dauer, won the third title in the San Diego Padres’seven-year run as the parent club. It was also the sixth title in the Missions’ era at Wolff Stadium and the 13th overall. Keyvius Sampson, Matt Andriese and Matt Wisler led the league’s best pitching staff and set the stage for an unlikely hero – Johan Limonta – to deliver a big blow in the championship-clincher.

Regular-season record: 78-61

First half: 38-31 Second half: 40-30

Playoffs: 6-4. The Missions ousted the Corpus Christi Hooks and the Arkansas Travelers in a pair of best-of-5 series that went the distance, winning the clincher on the road each time.

Parent club: San Diego Padres

Manager: Rich Dauer, first season with the Missions.

Top players: Ray Fuentes (.316, 29 stolen bases), Tommy Medica (.296, 18, HR 57 RBI); Jake Blackwood (.259, 7 HR, 61 RBI). Keyvius Sampson (10-4, 2.26), Matt Andriese (8-2, 2.37); Matt Wisler (8-5, 3.00), Jeremy McBryde (4-4, 2.35, 15 saves, bullpen), Kevin Quackenbush (2-0, 0.29, 13 saves, bullpen), Leonel Campos (1-0, 0.88, bullpen).

Players who reached MLB: Pitchers — Matt Andriese, Eddie Bonine, Wilfredo Boscan, Leonel Campos, Jose De Paula, Josh Geer, Colt Hynes, Ryan Kelly, Kevin Quackenbush, Chris Rearick, Donn Roach, Keyvius Sampson, Burch Smith, Matt Stites, Matt Wisler, Clay Zavada. Position players – Cody Decker, Ray Fuentes, Rocky Gale, Jedd Gyorko, Austin Hedges, Tommy Medica, Rico Noel, Eddy Rodriguez, Cory Spangenberg.

Key team statistics: First in in the TL in batting average (.256), seventh in runs scored (562), eighth in home runs (85). First in earned in average (3.19), first in WHIP (1.186), third in strikeouts (1,088). Eighth in fielding percentage (.972), eighth in fewest errors (149).

Notable: After the Missions knocked off the Hooks in the first round of the playoffs, the parent-club Padres called up offensive star Tommy Medica to the big leagues. Johan Limonta, who started the season playing in an independent league in Pennsylvania, stepped into the breach and hit a grand slam in the championship series clincher. His fourth-inning blow was the difference in a 5-0 victory at Arkansas.

Quotable: “I mean, it didn’t bother anybody,” Dauer said, shrugging off the impact of Medica’s departure. “That team was consistently changing. But they were consistently pulling for each other … They were perfect for the park we played in. They became a very good defensive team and scored just enough runs (to win). We also had some outstanding pitching — starters and relievers. That always helps.”

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com

Without a doubt: 2011 Missions dominated from the outset

Fifth in a series of stories on championships won by the San Antonio Missions during the Wolff Stadium era:

2011

Big picture: Led by prodigious home-run hitters, talented pitching a lock-down defense, the Missions secured the TL title in record-breaking fashion, winning a minor league, season-best and franchise-record 100 games. The Missions hit 159 home runs, won both halves in the regular season and two rounds in the playoffs to finish with a 100-47 record for a winning percentage of .680.

Regular-season record: 94-46.

First-half: 49-21. Second half: 45-25.

Playoff record: 6-1. The Missions surge through two best-of-5 playoff series, downing Frisco 3-1 for the South Division title and then sweeping Arkansas 3-0 to win the championship.
Parent club: San Diego Padres.

Manager: Doug Dascenzo, second season with the Missions.

Top players: 3B James Darnell (.333, 17 HR, 62 RBI), CF Blake Tekotte (.285, 19, 67), RF Sawyer Carroll (.267, 18, 71), OF Jaff Decker (.236, 19, 92). P Casey Kelly (11-6, ERA 3.98), P Juan Oramas (10-5, 3.10), Jorge Reyes (10-3, 3.12), Brad Brach (23 saves, 2.25).

Players who reached MLB: Pitchers – Anthony Bass, Brad Brach, Matt Buschmann, Simon Castro, Robbie Erlin, Erik Hamren, Pedro Hernandez, Colt Hynes, Casey Kelly, Eddie Kunz, Miles Mikolas, Josh Spence, Nick Vincent, Joe Wieland. Position players – Dean Anna, Vincent Belnome, Kyle Blanks, James Darnell, Cody Decker, Jaff Decker, Rocky Gale, Jedd Gyorko, Nick Hundley, Bobby Kielty, Andy Parrino, Kyle Phillips, Daniel Robertson, Eddy Rodriguez, Ali Solis, Blake Tekotte.

Key team statistics: Second in batting average (.269), first in runs scored (801) and third in home runs (159). First in earned run average (3.43), first in WHIP (1.272) and first in strikeouts (1,087). First in fielding percentage (.980) and first in fewest errors (108).

Notable: The Missions opened the championship series at home against the Arkansas Travelers with two of the most dramatic victories in the team’s playoff history. In Game 1, they scored four runs in the bottom of the ninth to win 5-4. In Game 2, they won 5-4 again. But this time, it took 20 innings – the longest playoff game in Texas League history. The Missions clinched the title with a 10-6 victory at North Little Rock.

Quotable: “It felt a lot like being in college. There was a lot of chemistry on this team. We had some new guys at mid-season after the call-ups, and they all fit right in. We didn’t have a bunch of superstars, just really good players who didn’t want to let their teammates down.” – Infielder Daniel Robertson told Express-News reporter John Whisler after the title-clinching victory.

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com

Sutton elevated basketball to new heights in the Southwest

Eddie Sutton, a Hall of Fame coach who led four different teams to the NCAA basketball tournament and lifted the game to new heights in the Southwest at Arkansas, died Saturday night. He was 84.

The family released a statement to the Tulsa World.

“Our beloved Dad and Papa coach Eddie Sutton passed away peacefully of natural causes the evening of May 23rd at his home in south Tulsa,” the family said. “He was surrounded by his 3 sons and their families, which include his nine adoring grandchildren. He is reunited with his No. 1 assistant — his bride Patsy Sutton — who passed away in January 2013 after 54 years of marriage.”

Sutton won everywhere he worked, notching 806 victories overall and guiding Creighton, Arkansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma State to the NCAA tournament. He led both Arkansas and Oklahoma State to the Final Four.

Even in San Antonio, Sutton made his mark.

After gaining national notoriety in guiding the Razorbacks to the Final Four in 1978, he brought his teams to Southwest Conference tournaments twice downtown in the Alamo City at the old HemisFair Arena. In 1981, UTSA played its inaugural game at the arena against a powerhouse Arkansas squad coached by Sutton.

Later, Sutton would make headlines again in San Antonio when he led the Oklahoma State Cowboys to the 2004 Final Four at the Alamodome.

“Dad and Mom treated their players like family and always shared the belief that his teachings went beyond the basketball court,” the family said in a statement. “He cherished the time he spent at every school and appreciated the support from their loyal fans. He believed they deserved so much credit in the success of his programs.

“He felt his recent Hall of Fame [induction] was an honor and a tribute to the great players he coached and outstanding assistant coaches that worked for him.”

Sutton’s national star began to rise when he recruited Sidney Moncrief, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph to Arkansas.

Together, ‘The Triplets’ sparked a 1978 Arkansas team that posted a 32-4 record. The Hogs lost to Kentucky in the NCAA semifinals and then finished third in the tournament after a two-point victory over Notre Dame.

He also achieved a high level of success at his alma mater, Oklahoma State, pacing the Cowboys to 13 NCAA tournament appearances in 16 seasons, including Final Fours in 1995 and 2004. Both years, the Cowboys lost in the semifinals.

In ’95, they made it to Seattle behind Bryant ‘Big Country’ Reeves. But they were denied a shot at the championship when they fell to eventual champion UCLA, 74-61.

In 2004, Sutton’s Cowboys roared into the Final Four at the Alamodome behind Tony Allen, John Lucas Jr., Joey Graham and Ivan McFarlin.

They lost 67-65 to Georgia Tech in the semifinals.

His death comes seven weeks after his election to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Sutton’s selection was announced on April 3. He was 806-328 in 37 seasons, with his teams reaching 25 NCAA tournaments.

Padres organization delivers title in first year at the Wolff

Fourth in a series of stories on championships won by the San Antonio Missions in the Wolff Stadium era:

2007

Big picture: With Chase Headley, Nick Hundley and Will Venable on the team, the Missions’ hopes soared entering their first year of affiliation with the San Diego Padres. But after a last-place finish in the first half, they had to rally, and they did, winning 42 games for the second-half division crown. Then the Missions rolled to the championship behind first-year manager Randy Ready, once a rival in the 1980s as a player for the El Paso Diablos. Headley was Player of the Year and Josh Geer Pitcher of the Year.

Regular-season record: 73-66

First half: 31-39. Second half: 42-27.

Playoff record: 6-1. The Missions rolled through two best-of-5 series, winning three straight against the Frisco RoughRiders, before taking down the Springfield Cardinals in four games.

Parent club: San Diego Padres.

Manager: Randy Ready, first season with the Missions.

Top players: Chase Headley (.330, 20 HR, 78 RBI, Nick Hundley (20 HR, 72 RBI), P Josh Geer (16-6, 3.20); P Cesar Ramos (13-9, 3.41).

Players who reached MLB: Position players — Matt Antonelli, Luis Cruz, Chase Headley, Chad Huffman, Nick Hundley, Sean Kazmar Jr., Drew Macias, Colt Morton, Will Venable, Shawn Wooten. Pitchers – Frank Brooks, Roger Deago, Mike Ekstrom, Josh Geer, Dirk Hayhurst, Wade LeBlanc, Arturo Lopez, Edwin Moreno, Cesar Ramos.

Key team stats: Eighth in batting average (.256), fifth in runs scored (642) third in home runs (133). First in earned run average (3.81), first in WHIP (1.299) and sixth in strikeouts (902). Tied for first in fielding percentage (.981) and first in fewest errors (95).

Notable: Utility player Brett Dowdy wasn’t thrilled when he was sent down from Triple-A Portland at midseason. But he didn’t let it bother him in the playoffs. Defensively, he played shortstop, left field and center field in the postseason. Offensively, he hit .379, including four doubles, two triples and three home runs. The former collegiate standout at Florida drove in six runs in an 11-7 title-clincher at Springfield.

Quotable: “It was somewhat difficult for me to come back down here, but I knew there was a role for me and a plan for me and it was hard for me to complain about the way the year turned out.” – Brett Dowdy told Express-News reporter David King, discussing his journey down to Double-A and a postseason title.

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com

Missions, Brundage win again in 2003, claim back-to-back titles

Third in a series on championships won by the San Antonio Missions during the Wolff Stadium era:

2003

Big picture: Lightning struck twice for Dave Brundage. He became the first manager in the history of minor league baseball in San Antonio to win back-to-back championships. Also for the second straight year, the Missions defeated a Texas Rangers affiliate (the Frisco RoughRiders) in the TL title series. Third baseman Justin Leone claimed Player of the Year honors. Travis Blackley was Pitcher of the Year.

Regular-season record: 88-51

First half: 47-22. Second half: 41-29.

Playoff record: 4-1. The Missions won both halves and drew a bye through the first round of the playoffs before they beat the RoughRiders in five games in a best-of-7 series for the title.

Parent club: Seattle Mariners

Manager: Dave Brundage, third season in San Antonio

Top players: P Travis Blackley (17-3, 2.61 ERA), P Bobby Madritsch (13-7, 3.63), P Clint Nageotte (11-7, 3.10), 1B Justin Leone (.288, 21 HR, 92 RBI), 2B Jose Lopez (13 HR, 69 RBI), OF Mike Curry (.276, 58 stolen bases), DH A.J. Zapp. (26 HR, 92 RBI).

Players who reached MLB: Pitchers – Cha Seung-Baek, Travis Blackley, Tim Hamulack, Craig House, Bobby Madritsch, Clint Nageotte, George Sherrill, Matt Thornton, Randy Williams. Position players – Jaime Bubela, Greg Dobbs, Justin Leone, John Lindsey, Jose Lopez, Chris Snelling, Luis Ugueto, Dan Wilson.

Key team stats: Third in batting average (.276), fourth in HR (90) and second in runs scored (701). First in ERA (3.03), first in WHIP (1.261), first in strikeouts (1,131). Third in fielding percentage (.972) and third in fewest errors (147).

Notable: Blessed with a talented roster, Brundage made the most of it. In April, his team won 18 games in a row. Blackley, a 6-foot-3 lefty from Australia, led the league in victories. In the playoffs, Madritsch won two games, and the 19-year-old Lopez hit .391 and hammered two home runs. Leone hit .375 and had four RBI.

Quotable: “The Mariners took a chance to come in (to San Antonio, in 2001), and it was a great fit from both sides. I think the Mariners were extremely pleased to be able to land in San Antonio. I was tickled to death to be back in managing, in Double-A, and to be involved in something like that. I don’t think the (Missions) had won many championships, and to win back to back, there’s something so special in that. It’s something that doesn’t happen very often in the game of baseball.” – Dave Brundage.

Postscript: Brundage led the Sacramento River Cats (San Francisco Giants) to the 2019 Pacific Coast League title.

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com.

Brundage’s Missions ride bullpen arms to 2002 championship

Second in a series of stories on the six championships won by the San Antonio Missions during the Wolff Stadium era.

2002

Big picture: The Missions opened the season with a thud, losing 45 games and finishing last in the first half. They closed with a flourish, winning the second-half division race and advancing to the postseason, where they claimed the franchise’s first Texas League title since 1997. It was also a big moment for the Seattle Mariners’ minor-league department. The Mariners and manager Dave Brundage were in just their second season in San Antonio after the Missions’ split with the Dodgers.

Regular-season record: 68-72.

First half: 25-45. Second half: 43-27.

Playoff record: 7-5. The second-half TL West champion Missions won three out of five to claim a first-round series against the Round Rock Express. They followed by winning four of seven against the Tulsa Drillers for the championship.

Parent club: Seattle Mariners

Manager: Dave Brundage, second season in San Antonio

Top players: P Rett Johnson (10-4, 3.62 ERA), P Aaron Looper (6-1, 2.28, ERA, bullpen), P Aaron Taylor (24 saves, bullpen), P Allan Simpson (10-5, 3.06 ERA, bullpen), 3B Greg Dobbs (.365), CF Jamal Strong (.278, 46 stolen bases).

Players who reached MLB: Pitchers – Aaron Looper, Julio Mateo, Chris Mears, Gil Meche, J.J. Putz, Allan Simpson, Rafael Soriano, Aaron Taylor, Matt Thornton. Position players – Andy Barkett, Greg Dobbs, Antonio Perez, Chris Snelling, Jamal Strong.

Key team stats: Sixth in batting average (.253), eighth in HR (51) and eighth in runs scored (533). Second in ERA (3.43), second in WHIP (1.318), first in strikeouts (1,022), eighth in walks issued (516). Seventh in both fielding percentage (.970) and fewest errors (161).

Notable: After finishing 20 games under .500 in the first half, the Missions turned it on in the second, winning the West on the strength of pitching out of the bullpen. In August, they clinched a spot in the playoffs with a road victory in Round Rock. Before the series, Brundage told his players that when they clinched, he didn’t want to see them celebrate. He wanted them to show some quiet confidence against a team they would face in the first round of the postseason.

Quotable: “We were going to act like, ‘This is not a big deal.
We were making a statement, and the statement was, ‘You know, we’re not just here to get into the playoffs. We’re here to win it.” – Dave Brundage

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com

Roenicke’s Missions broke a long title drought in San Antonio

Wolff Stadium opened as the home of the Missions in 1994. Since then, the ball club has won six
championships. – Photo by Jerry Briggs

As the weather warms up and the possibility of a lost baseball season looms, I wanted to take a look back at some history.

The Missions have played 26 seasons at Wolff Stadium, and they’ve won six championships in that era.

This season hasn’t started yet because of the national health crisis, with the major leagues trying to work out a reduced schedule that would start in July.

Whether the minors will play at all is undetermined.

In the meantime, I’ve got an appraisal of each Missions title team in the Wolff era, its major story lines and key players.

You can just call it a six-pack to go.

Here’s the first installment, this one on the 1997 Texas League champions.

1997

Big picture: The Missions, in their fourth season at Wolff and their 21st as the Double-A affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers, won 40 games or more in each half and claimed the first Texas League title in San Antonio since 1964. In the past, the Dodgers had sent the likes of Dave Stewart, Fernando Valenzuela, Orel Hershiser, Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez to the Alamo City. But they could never win it all until Ron Roenicke, a former Dodger who played two years in the Alamo City in the 1970s, took the reins as manager.

Regular-season record: 84-55

First half: 44-23. Second half: 40-32.

Playoff record: 4-3. The Missions downed the Shreveport Captains, winning four of seven. Both finalists averted a first-round series within their divisions by winning both the first and second half in the regular season.

Parent club: Los Angeles Dodgers

Manager: Ron Roenicke, first season in San Antonio

Top players: IB J.P. Roberge (.322, 105 RBI), P Will Brunson (5-5, 3.47), P Dennys Reyes (8-1, 3.02), P Ignacio Flores (10-7, 3.25), C Paul Lo Duca (.327, 69 RBI).

Players who reached MLB: Pitchers — Pat Ahearne, Mike Anderson, Nate Bland, Will Brunson, Rick Gorecki, Matt Herges, Mike Judd, Jeff Kubenka, Dennys Reyes, Ricky Stone, Eric Weaver, Jeff Williams. Position players – Howard Battle, Alex Cora, Garey Ingram, Keith Johnson, Paul Lo Duca.

Key team stats: Second in batting average (.283), seventh in HR (105) and third in runs scored (736). First in ERA (3.97), first in WHIP (1.355), second in strikeouts (901). Tied for first in fielding percentage (.976) and fewest errors (127).

Notable: The Missions roared out of the gates in the championship series, winning the first three games at home behind dominant pitching. Roberge delivered in Game 3 with a walk-off solo homer in the ninth for a 2-1 victory. In Shreveport, the tide turned. The Captains needed to win four straight at home to win the series, and they nearly pulled it off by winning three in a row to force a rubber match. The Missions won the deciding game, 2-0, behind the pitching of Brunson. He worked eight scoreless innings, allowing only three hits, to nail down the title at Shreveport’s Fair Grounds Park.

Quotable: “I’ve never seen him so focused, throughout the whole ballgame. Usually, he’ll get one up in the strike zone, but he never did. You know, in games like this, you really see a guy’s heart. You see who steps up (to) the challenge, who gets it done. Will Brunson showed us today what he’s got inside him.” – Ron Roenicke, speaking in the post-game to San Antonio Express-News reporter David King.

Postscript: Roenicke is the manager of the Boston Red Sox. He was promoted after Cora was fired for his role in MLB’s sign-stealing scandal. Brunson died of a heart attack on Nov. 23 on a hiking trip to Big Bend National Park.

Sources: samissions.com, expressnews.com, baseball-reference.com